The Galapagos Islands are an iconic bucket list destination for just about every traveler in the world. A place full of diversity, wonder, unique wildlife and dramatic landscapes, it doesn’t fail to disappoint and we were lucky enough to experience the islands on a Galapagos luxury cruise.
It is a common debate when it comes to the best way to experience the Galapagos, whether land-based options or cruising is the way to go. From the perspective of someone that has now experienced 14 days aboard a ship, I can say with confidence that cruising is a tough order to beat.
By cruising the Galapagos Islands and carefully selecting a company that offered unique itineraries, we were able to see so much more than you could ever attempt to see on a land-based tour.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands (Travel Guide)
All said, choosing the right cruise can be difficult because the options are plentiful in all classes, from the budget with dorm-style cabins to luxury ships with only 16 passengers and everything in between.
We wanted a more intimate experience, with smaller groups and an itinerary that favored excursions rather than keeping us on the ship. That is how we ended up on a Galapagos luxury cruise aboard the Sea Star Journey.
It was exactly what we were looking for in our experience and in helping you to find the right cruise, want to share some details about the ship, crew and our time in the Galapagos Islands with Latin Trails.
Dedicated National Park Guide
As is the practice on all boats, our Galapagos luxury cruise had a dedicated onboard National Park Guide to educate people about the islands and wildlife. The guide is there to operate all shore excursions and ensure you are following the rules that have been put in place.
Our guide’s name was Hansel and I can say without a doubt in my mind that he was one of the most passionate and dedicated guides we have ever had in our travels. Not only does he truly love his job and care about the cause but he is also a genuinely nice person.
He went out of his way to answer questions, find wildlife and make sure everyone was having the experience they dreamed about in the Galapagos. Being a full-time traveler, I can attest to the fact that guides have the biggest say in whether the trip you have is a good one or a bad one. The guide you have literally made or breaks the trip, regardless of the destination.
We enjoyed spending all day every day of our 14 day trip with Hansel and it never got old. We laughed, we joked, we told stories, we shared photos and best of all made a really good friend. Even if the Sea Star Journey wasn’t a luxury experience we’d return a thousand times over to have a guide like Hansel.
Something to note, I can’t guarantee you’ll get Hansel on your cruise, as the Sea Star Journey does employ other National Park Guides that rotate through the itineraries. But if you do, tell him we said hello and prepare yourself for a truly genuine experience in the Galapagos Islands.
Check out this book: Galapagos Wildlife: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Animals (A Pocket Naturalist Guide)
One of the biggest draws to this Galapagos luxury cruise for us was the format for shore excursions. They have an emphasis on spending most of your time actually on the islands, versus on the ship. We love this.
Every single day we had two excursions off the ship. The activities were combinations of hiking, skiff tours, snorkeling, swimming, beach walks, and kayaking. Because of this format, we left the islands feeling like we actually experienced them.
While the ship became our home, our purpose in visiting was to be immersed in the Galapagos Islands, and the Sea Star Journey lays out an itinerary that delivers just that.
Every night we would meet in the dining area to have a briefing for the following day and Hansel would lay out what island we would be at, what activities were being offered and what time they would happen. Unlike traditional large ship cruising where you have many concurrent options, everyone on the ship participated in the one activity together.
We also enjoyed a healthy balance of variety, meaning we had ample opportunity to hike, snorkel, kayak, and wildlife view without feeling like we needed more of something. This is not easy to achieve, so we really appreciated the thought that goes into arranging excursions for the passengers of the Sea Star Journey.
Check out this book: Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles of the Galápagos Islands: An Identification Guide, 2nd Edition
Top Deck Recreation Area
To say that the public top deck area of the Sea Star Journey met our expectations is an understatement. We have never before been on a small ship with a max capacity of 18 people that had dedicated their entire top deck to the comfort of its passengers.
Hands down, it was our favorite place on the boat. Complete with four lounge beds, sun chairs, sitting area with a table and two full-size hot tubs, the top deck was the place to be every night for sunset.
After a full day of excursions on the islands or an afternoon snorkel in the chilly waters, we would often come aboard and race to the top to soak away the cold in the hot tubs. On other days we would enjoy happy hour while the boat set sail inviting an endless stream of drifting Frigate birds as the sun melted into the ocean and showered the horizon in colors.
Not only was the entire top deck dedicated to our comfort but also arranged in a way that left plenty of deck space for yoga without interfering with the other passengers. This is something we could really appreciate as fitness lovers.
When we walked into our stateroom for the first time our jaws literally hit the floor. Never before had we stepped foot on a boat the size of the Sea Star Journey that had such large rooms.
Besides enough space for a desk, two beds, two nightstands, a wardrobe and a balcony, the room was complete with a full-sized bathroom. This also included a full, room length of counter space. Something that is pretty much unheard of in the same sentence as a cruise cabin.
Recently refurbished, the rooms gleamed with polished floors and carefully selected color patterns to accent the décor. Not to mention the huge windows in our room. It was like having a floating condo and nothing outside of the ship was ever obstructed from view. If we needed quiet time, we could retreat to our room without worrying about missing the views outside.
Food on the Sea Star Journey
Admittedly, we were both surprised when the buffet concept was introduced to us on the boat. There tends to be an assumption, at least for us that products being sold as a luxury would come with a more formal plated dinner. However, with the small number of people on the boat, at any time the maximum was 16, the buffet worked perfectly.
There were no long lines to wait in and by letting us choose our own portions there was less food waste. This is something I can appreciate because the Galapagos is not a place where dealing with excess garbage is easy.
That said, the meals were great and the crew runs a rotating menu so you don’t get tired of the food, even if you stay on for more than one itinerary. I should also note that all meals are included.
Breakfast each morning included fresh fruit, bread, and a rotating variety of other items like yogurt, pancakes, oats, and cereal. There was also a made to order egg station with all options available including omelets.
Lunch was typically served in three courses, starting with a soup, followed by an entrée and then a light fruit dessert. We enjoyed a variety of international and Ecuadorian themed meals.
Dinner was also served in three courses, also with soup and entrée. With dinner, we were also given the option of a variety of salads. Desert varied from light fruit to a variety of cakes. We happened to be sailing over Thanksgiving and the crew went as far as cooking an entire turkey and serving it for us to celebrate.
One thing we absolutely loved about our Galapagos luxury cruise on the Sea Star Journey was 24-hour access to a cappuccino machine, hot water for tea and a large water cooler.
Of course, like all cruise boats, the Sea Star Journey has its own bar. Due to the logistics of the Galapagos Islands, the selection was limited but the bartender always had a smile and was great at suggesting alternatives if they didn’t stock something you were looking for.
One thing that seemed to cause frustration for many people was the cost of ordering drinks. While the prices were printed clearly on the drink menu, it was not always made clear that the tax and service charge was not included. Typical to the Galapagos Islands, this was a hefty 22%.
The bar bill adds up quickly if you forget to take that into consideration. Something else to note is that the ship does not take credit cards, at least not when we sailed. Meaning all bar bills, wetsuit rentals and tips had to be paid in USD cash before disembarkation.
Galapagos Itinerary Options
The Sea Star Journey operates three different itinerary options for its Galapagos luxury cruise. What we loved the most was that none of them overlapped, meaning that if you choose to do more than one itinerary, you will always be seeing something different.
This came in handy as we booked onto the ship for 14 days, giving us the chance to experience and complete all three of the itineraries. This took us to the most popular places and also to the far reaches where very few actually venture.
I seriously cannot tell you how many times it was just our Galapagos luxury cruise and the sister ship setting the anchor. Not another soul to be found, meaning we got a very intimate experience with the Galapagos Islands.
This is just a quick overview of the itineraries available on the Sea Star Journey. Most people sail only one leg, but it is possible to combine two or all three together for a longer trip.
Itinerary A (6D/5N) – Red route, visits the southern islands of San Cristobal, Espanola, Floreana, Santa Fe, South Plaza Islet, North Seymour, Bachas Beach, and Mosquera.
Itinerary B (5D/4N) – Black route, visits the islands of Santa Cruz, Chinese Hat, Genovesa, Bartolome and Santiago.
Itinerary C (6D/5N) – Green route, visits the islands of Santa Cruz, Tintoteras, Isabela, Fernandina, Santiago, Isla Lobos, and San Cristobal.
Something to note- if you have your heart set on seeing a particular animal, I highly advise that you do some research before booking. Not all animals can be found on all the islands. Each itinerary visits a different group of islands, therefore offering different animal viewing opportunities.
The Sea Star Journey Experience
Our entire experience in the Galapagos Islands was handled by Latin Trails. Before we even set foot in Ecuador they made all of our arrangements including flights from Quito to the Galapagos Islands, accommodation in Quito pre and post-trip, as well as our bookings with the Sea Star Journey.
Arriving in Quito was hands-off, with them meeting us at the airport and providing airport transfers to our accommodation and then back again to the airport the next morning.
Upon arriving at the airport we were met by a representative who handled our paperwork for entering the Galapagos Islands and gave us all of our pre-cruise documentation. We literally just needed to check our bags and board the plane.
When we landed in the Galapagos Islands, we were met at the airport by Hansel who never left our sides until he delivered us back to the airport to fly back to Quito after our 14-day cruise.
If you seek attentive customer service and a crew of people that love what they do, then you’ll get no better service elsewhere. I can, without hesitation, recommend Latin Trails and the Sea Star Journey for an unforgettable way of experiencing the Galapagos Islands.